Sunday, 22 March 2015 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the last Sunday of Lent, the fifth of the five Sundays we celebrate during this Lent. On this day we are presented with what God has done for our sake. He has established with us all a new and everlasting covenant or pact, which binds both us and Himself, and sealed with none other than the worthy Blood of the Lamb, the Lamb of God, that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

While the first covenant of God with men was broken because of our ancestors’ disobedience, when Adam and Eve first disobeyed the Lord by eating the forbidden fruit, mankind had been cast out from the benefits of the covenant which God had forged with them. We were never meant to suffer the consequences of sin and suffering death, as the Lord created us so that He may love us and bless us abundantly, and we were to be loved by Him all the days of our life, living in perfect bliss and harmony in heaven.

But yet, we chose to disobey and in our greed and selfishness, we abandoned the goodness which we were to receive and keep, and instead, for a taste of knowledge, we have chosen to place our lot with the devil who was cast down, cursed and condemned. And so, death becomes a part of our lives, and we become subject to it, mortal and as people rejected by the Lord.

Despite all of this, however, God still loves us all greatly, and by no means that He had abandoned us to death. And that is why, even though He had wiped out most of mankind at the time of Noah because of their wickedness, He had called Noah and his family and saved them through the Ark. Noah and his family were righteous and upright, and therefore they did not deserve death. Those who died in the Flood died because they deserved it.

God made a covenant with Noah, and Noah offered sacrifices on the Mount Ararat where he came out of the Ark after the Flood ended. God placed His bow on the sky, which we now know as the rainbow, as the proof of His covenant and faithfulness to His promise. Have God reneged from His promise since then? No, certainly not. He never used water or flood to destroy mankind once again. And we are reminded of this every time the rain ends and the rainbow appears in the skies above us.

It was us mankind who once again disobeyed Him and rebelled against Him, preferring to follow our own path, succumbing to our desires and our greed. And that was shown at the tower of Babel, where men aspired to be like God and to build a tower surpassing all others and reaching up to heaven. God punished them by confusing their languages and they were not able to satisfy their greed and hubris, and they were all scattered around the world.

But God yet wanted to give them a chance, and He saw in one person, a faith in Him which surpassed all others. And that man was Abram, whom God chose and called from the country of his ancestors, to travel to the land which He intended to give to him if he remained faithful. And indeed, he was faithful, and he followed everything that God had commanded him, and even up to sacrificing and offering his own son, Isaac.

Abram was rewarded for his faith, and not only that God did not take Isaac, as He was only testing his faith, but he was made to be the father of many peoples and many nations. And for even those who are not counted among his descendants, he was made to be their father in faith, for he was counted among those who were the first to show righteousness and faith to God.

God made His covenant with Abram, whom He renamed Abraham as part of that covenant, and Abraham again offered sacrifices of animals as the seal for that covenant, the binding agreement that bound both God and Abraham as well as all of his descendants. But again, his descendants were not faithful to that covenant and agreement. They preferred to go their own path and committed all sorts of wickedness, despite the various and repeated reminders sent to them through the many prophets and servants of God.

Some remained faithful to the Lord, but many did not. And the few who were faithful were often harassed and persecuted by those who did not keep their faith. They were forced and persuaded to abandon their faith for the ways of the world, often even at the threat of death. But many persevered and resisted the pull of the world and the temptations of Satan.

And while we continued to rebel against His will and stay in our waywardness, God remains faithful, and He sends to us the One who was to create that new covenant which will be the final and perfect covenant that will last for all time. Christ is that Mediator of the New Covenant, the everlasting promise which God has promised to us, that to all of us He has promised eternal joy and eternal life, the freedom and liberation from death.

It is sin, our disobedience and rebelliousness which have bound us to death, for death is the consequence of sin. For in God is life, and it is He who holds the reins of life and death. If we do not hold fast to our faith in the Lord, then we will likely lose our hold on Him, and if we have no part in Him, then we would have no life, for death is the only thing that we can look forward to.

But our Lord had shown us that there is life beyond death, that is the life with our Lord, which we also know as the life in the world to come, as we always mention as we took our Creed at the Sunday Masses. And we have to look at the story of how Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead. He brought back Lazarus from the dead, so that He can show how death does not have the final say over us.

Many of us fear death, and indeed it can be said that everyone is afraid of dying, but we are afraid because we are not sure what is to happen with us after that, and we are afraid because we think that when we die, we will lose all the things we have in this world. We cannot let go of the things we have, be it possessions, money, wealth, the fame we have accumulated, the prestige and position of honour which we have attained in the society.

And if we do not trust in the Lord, that is why we also fear death, because we see it as the end to our good life in this world. That is why we also fear when we age, because we see ageing as being drown closer and closer to death. And this is where the very problem lays. Ever since the beginning, we mankind are always selfish and concerned only about ourselves. That is why our ancestor sinned, why they grumbled and complained against the Lord whenever things do not go their way, because they think only of how to please themselves and to satisfy their desires.

In this holy season of Lent, the time of preparation for the Holy Week and Easter, we all should really find the time and opportunity to withdraw from our hectic schedules and works, and to think through our priorities in this life. Have we truly placed our complete and full trust in the Lord? Have we been truly faithful to the covenant which He had established with all of us? He had sealed it with none other than with His own Precious Blood.

Only the Blood of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is worthy to absolve all of our sins, the accumulative burden of our sins, of all mankind past, present and future, that when we have been freed from the shackles of sin, then we too shall be freed from the bonds of death. Our mortal bodies may be subjected to death, but our soul is eternal, and the Lord who is Lord over life and death will raise up all of His faithful ones to life, body and soul, to be with Him, and to receive the eternal bliss and happiness initially intended for us when He first created us.

It is the time for us all to make a clear decision, on whether we prefer to continue with our usual way of life, giving in to the pull and to the temptations of the good things in life, or whether we prefer to take the more difficult path, of allowing  God to enter into our lives, knowing that by following Him we will face difficulties and even rejection from the world, or by giving in to our desires, where we shall have life as we wanted it, but we greatly risk if not assured of the rejection by our Lord and therefore eternal damnation.

Jesus Himself had shown us all the way to go. He is our High Priest who offered for the sake of us all, the perfect sacrifice of Himself, laying down His life and baring down Himself, stretched on the cross. It was not by His great might, power or strength that He had won a victory and pardon for us, but rather through His humility and obedience to the will of His Father, our Lord in heaven. And through that, He gathered all of  us scattered in the world, and make us to be one people through His Church, that is His Body.

The same therefore will apply to us. If we are faithful to Him, and walk in His path, God will bless us and lift up from us the punishment for our sins, that is eternal death. He will give us a new life, and the promise of everlasting life, united with Him and all the other righteous ones in heavenly glory. If we decide to follow the path of our unfaithful and rebellious ancestors, then we have to be ready to suffer the consequences.

Let us all today renew the faith which we have in the Lord, and let us also take this opportunity to renew our commitment to do good in our lives, be it in terms of building up our relationship with God, or in loving one another genuinely and caring for them, rather than to keep to ourselves and rather than trying to satisfy our endless desires and wants.

Let us seek genuine conversion to our Lord and be renewed greatly in our faith and devotion to Him. Seek not what is temporary in the world, but seek what is everlasting in heaven. It is better for us to suffer in this world for a while rather than to suffer for eternity in the world that is to come. May Almighty God bless us all always, forgive us all our sins and bring us to His promise of everlasting life. Amen.

Sunday, 15 March 2015 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or Rose (Laetare Sunday)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the fourth Sunday of Lent, and by tradition, it is also called Laetare Sunday, from the first word in the Introit or the opening theme of the Mass, ‘Laetare, Jerusalem’ or ‘Rejoice, o Jerusalem’. Thus, just as during the season of Advent we celebrate the Gaudete Sunday, in this season of Lent, we also have this short intermezzo or ‘break’ from the penitential nature of this season, and we reflect for a while on the theme of ‘joy’.

That is why, today the vestments used are of rose colour, similar as that of Gaudete Sunday, to represent the more uplifting and cheerful nature of this celebration as compared to the much more sombre and humble nature of the rest of this Lenten season. And from this, we should indeed ask ourselves, what is this joy that we are celebrating today, and why now, in the middle of this season of penitence and preparation for Easter?

That is because it is part of the preparation of our minds, hearts and bodies for the coming of the celebration of the greatest mysteries of our Faith, that we should know of the outcome of our penitence and repentance, that is the joy of the liberation from all the harms and the threats that await us as long as we remain in the state of sin. And this has been aptly summarised and shown through the readings of the Holy Scriptures chosen for this day.

In the first reading we have from different years the readings that represent hope that triumphed over despair, and the dawn of a new hope for the people of God afflicted and living in darkness and in lives filled with troubles. They told of how the people of Israel, who have been destroyed and defeated by their enemies, and with the Babylonians razing even Jerusalem, destroying its Holy Temple, have been succoured by God who never forgot about them.

God sent them salvation through the person of Cyrus, the first King and ruler of the Persian Empire who defeated the Babylonians and liberated the people of Israel after having spent many years and decades in bitter exile away from their homeland.  They were sent back and led back to their ancestral land, and they were reestablished there in great joy and happiness.

Them we also heard how the prophet Samuel, the prophet and judge of Israel anointed David to be the king over all of Israel, to replace the first king, Saul, who had erred from his ways and who did not keep faithful the commandments of the Lord, and who had led the people in error as well, causing them to sin. Thus, God also sent a deliverance to His people through David, liberating them from their troubles and suffering into joy and happiness.

With the anointing of David, the golden era of Israel would come, where after the Israelites had often been troubled and even enslaved by their enemies around them, and after Saul the first king himself was slain by the Philistines, David would lead Israel to defeat all of their enemies and rule over them, and peace and prosperity would last throughout the rest of his reign and that of Solomon, his son.

And all these led to the ultimate help and rescue which our Lord had given us, the true joy and happiness that surpass any other joy and happiness. For there is no greater joy than for us to be reunited with our loving God and Father. We have been long separated from Him because of our sins and wickedness, and because of that we too have been doomed to destruction and despair, but because God loves us so much that He was willing to come Himself to help us overcome that sin and despair, and because of that hope and joy arise within us, not to be quelled by despair anymore.

Christ Himself mentioned to Nicodemus, the righteous and faithful Pharisee, that just as Moses once lifted up the bronze serpent high on a staff to save those people who had been bitten by fiery serpents, that all who have seen it would not not die and live, then the same was also done by our loving Lord, who allowed Himself to be raised up on the cross, hung between heaven and earth, surrendering it all, so that all of us who believe in Him will not die but receive everlasting life, as well as true joy and happiness.

Such indeed is the great love that our Lord has for us, that He was willing to endure so many things and so great a suffering, mockery and torture, even unto a humiliating death on the cross, in order to save all of us, unworthy and rebellious as we are. Therefore, it is imperative that we all understand God’s love for us, and we have to know what is true joy, and what our aim should be in this life.

In this season of Lent, it is a perfect time for us to stop our hectic life schedules for a moment, that we will be able to find a time to look deep into our own lives, and reflect upon our actions and deeds. It is a time for us to reevaluate our lives’ priorities and focus. What is true joy and happiness for us? What is it that all of us should aim for in life? Is it power, wealth, worldly happiness and pleasures? Or is it true and genuine love, that is the same love which our Lord had shown us?

Many of us are not happy in our lives. We are not able to attain true happiness because we do not know what it is really. Many of us think that money can bring us happiness and good life, and so we slaved ourselves to working many hours and pushing ourselves so hard in order to earn more money, but at the end of the day, can we buy love and attention with money? Most likely not, and even if we manage to get these, it is likely that these would not last.

Thus, as we reflect on the joy that we ought to celebrate today, we have to realise that our true joy come with our salvation by God, who had devoted Himself so much for our sake, so that we are given a new hope in our great despair. While once it has looked very bleak for us, that we have been condemned because of our sins, but now we know that through Christ, there is hope for a new life that is what God intended for us.

Let us all therefore dedicate ourselves to change our way of life, changing the focus we have in life, that instead of seeking for temporal joy, and happiness that would not last, we instead seek eternal joy and happiness. Money, fame and all worldly things cannot give us real joy, but real joy is when we love one another, helping those who are in need of something, be it basic needs of life, or even love, care and attention.

As we continue to prepare ourselves during this Lenten season, let us pray that our loving God may help us to find our way in this life, so that we may endeavour to seek our joy in the Lord. Let us focus our attention on the Lord and not be distracted by the concerns of this world, and by all the temptations of the flesh and of the world, all of which promise us temporary joy but risk us everlasting despair and sorrow. Do not seek what does not bring us true satisfaction, which only God can give. God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 8 March 2015 : Third Sunday of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard a very clear message in the readings of today, that we mankind must leave our current state of filth and sinfulness, and embrace instead the love and mercy of our God, who will then dwell in the hearts of all who have repented from their evil ways and believe in Him. This is the truth of our Faith, and which we have to spread to all the world, for the salvation of all mankind.

This is the season of Lent, and we have entered into the third week of this sacred season. Lent is the season of reflection, of understanding ourselves and all that we have done and committed in this world, be it good or evil. It is the time for us to look into ourselves and think about our future, especially what we are to become in the end. Will we be part of God’s kingdom or will we be rejected and cast out because of our wickedness and sins?

These are the questions which we should seriously consider as we continue on with our lives, especially as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the greatest mysteries of our Faith in the celebration of our Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection this coming Holy Week and Easter season. We have to prepare ourselves in heart, mind, body and soul for this, even as we see our brethren among us who are preparing themselves to be received into the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism.

We heard about God giving His Laws and Commandments, the Ten Commandment to His people in our first reading, and how those were meant to guide them in their ways in life, so that they would remain ever faithful and righteous in the eyes of God and men alike. He provided them with much goodness and blessings, as they have been chosen and blessed over the other nations. God smote down their enemies and all who have risen up against them, and He also gave them food and drink of immeasurable quantities as they journeyed through the desert.

But instead, the people of God, Israel, refused to obey and listen to the Lord their God. As soon as the Lord guided them away from the Egyptians, they sinned by rising up a golden calf to be their ‘god’ and broke the covenant which God had just made with them through the Law He had given them. What we heard today is the other great sin they had committed, at Massah and Meribah, so much so that whenever we hear the names today, they equate with rebellion and disobedience against God.

Despite all the good things which God had done unto them, they refused to be content and demanded all the more. They contended that their life in slavery in Egypt was much better than what they had then in the desert, as free men and women. This is despite God’s providing them with bread from heaven itself, the manna, sweet as honey and delicious, as well as filling, and everyone had enough to eat, with large birds given by God every day for their food.

And sweet, crystal-clear water had been given to them to drink, coming out from the rocks and the earth itself. They have no need to fear for their lives or to be afraid of not having enough, for God also ensured that everyone had enough, that all those who have collected more did not have too much, while those who collected less did not have too little. Yet, despite all these, the people of God gave in to their desires and greed, and demanded for more.

It is from this abyss and darkness that God is calling us to come out and seek His light. He urges us all to be rescued from the pit of darkness, that is our greed, our desires, our pride and all the other things and negativities that prevented us from being truly reunited with our Lord and God. We are reminded that we have to change or else we will also walk the same path as the Israelites to destruction. They were punished for their disobedience and all those who walked the path of rebellion were cast to outer darkness.

In the Gospel today, we are therefore reminded again of the day of our baptism, the day when we are accepted into the Church of God and therefore became partakers in the divine inheritance which we are to receive. And for those among us to be baptised soon, this is an affirmation of the promise of salvation which they are to receive if they remain faithful just as we are faithful to God.

If we allow the Lord to dwell in us, by accepting Him fully and worthily as we receive the Eucharist in the state of grace, then we will have the Lord in us, and He will satisfy us with all that we ever need. Indeed, much like what He had done so long ago with the people of Israel and even much more. The people who ate the manna and drank the sweet spring water still died and perished, but all of us who have received the Lord, we will no longer need to fear death.

It is not that we will no longer die. All of us are still mortals, and will one day have to face death, but it is no longer something that we should be afraid of, for we have the assurance of Christ Himself, that we have been freed from eternal death. By His resurrection He had assured us of the life that is to come, eternal and filled with bliss, happiness and glory which will be ours if we remain faithful to the end.

This Lent is the perfect opportunity for us to reevaluate our ways, and to think about what we have done, what we have failed to do in accordance to the will of God, and most importantly, about what we can do in the upcoming future. The choice is now in our hands, to change sincerely and genuinely, and to love the Lord our God and our fellow men with all of our hearts from now on.

If we believe, then the Lord truly will be the source of our strength in us, welling up like unstoppable force of the spring water, that will nourish us and provide us with all that we need. Remember always, that our bodies and our beings are the Temple of God’s residence, and God Himself dwells in each and every one of us. It is time that we prove to God that we can provide Him with such a worthy and suitable dwelling place, that He will find us worthy and justify us by our faith, that in the end, our share will be the eternal life which He had promised us. God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 1 March 2015 : Second Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the second Sunday of the season of Lent. We celebrate today the time and season for preparation for us to prepare for the celebration of the most important mysteries and parts of our faith, that is the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And today we are also presented with the catechesis or teaching, meant to showcase the love which our Lord had shown us in various ways, but foremost of all, through the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ.

There are many meanings and symbols attached to the readings we have heard on this day, and all of it are centred on two main messages which the Church desires all of us to bring home this day and reflect upon them to enrich our own faith life and help us to grow stronger in faith.

The first of them is that the love and faith our Lord showed us is so sincere and genuine, that it is unconditional and so devoted it was that He did not spare even His own Son for our sake and for our salvation. The second of which is that in Jesus lies our salvation and the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, and that there will be difficulty if we follow the path of Christ, but if we do so, then we will share in His glory and in the revealing of our true selves just as Christ had been revealed to the world.

In the first reading today, from the Book of Genesis, we heard how God asked Abraham, our father in faith, the father of Israel and many nations, to sacrifice his own beloved son, Isaac, the heir and son whom God had promised him. Imagine what Abraham would have thought when he heard of such a request from the Lord, to give up his own son and heir, whom he had awaited for such a long time, and yet then God seemingly just wanted to take him away.

Abraham was a very wealthy man, with many possessions, animals and large number of servants and land, and he was also faithful and righteous, picked by God from among the nations, to be the one with whom God made His covenant with. And God promised Abraham that he would become a great nation and his descendants would be innumerable, as many as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore. Yet, God wanted to take the only son whom Abraham had, and wanted him to be given as a sacrificial victim.

And yet, Abraham obeyed and listened to God. He did not complain or protest against the Lord and what He had asked. Instead, he brought his son to the mountain where he was supposed to sacrifice his own son, and when his son asked him, where the sacrifice was, Abraham told his son that ‘God would provide’. Abraham knew in his heart that God would be faithful to His covenant, and as St. Paul mentioned in one of his letters, Abraham knew that God would not take away the son He had promised him, and that there would be a way, one or another, to come out from that predicament.

As difficult it was and as great a dilemma it was for Abraham, he did not hesitate to listen to the Lord, be faithful to Him, even to the point of being ready to cut the life out of his own son. He was ready with the knife when God stopped him, and told him that He had seen how great and genuine his faith was. Abraham’s faith and love for God is unconditional and genuine, desiring no returns, or else, he would not have walked up that mountain to sacrifice his own son to God.

The same therefore applies to how our Lord and God loves us all. His love is genuine, and He loves us all with all of His heart. He lamented greatly our waywardness and the loss of us all to the darkness, that is the darkness of this world. He certainly does not desire us to be lost, and therefore, for His great faithfulness and love, He did not spare even His only Son, the Divine Word which became Flesh, to be born as Man, and to die for our sake, as reparation for our sins.

This is a parallel to what had happened between Abraham and Isaac, his son. Just as Abraham was faithful to the Lord, the Lord Himself is faithful to His promises to all of us, that He will save all of us from the darkness and suffering of sin. Even if we deny Him and rebel against Him, He cannot deny Himself and His love for us. And that is essentially the essence of this season of Lent, the season of forgiveness. God gives us the chance to repent and change our ways, by believing in Jesus, His Son and by listening to what He had taught us.

And from there we come to the second of the meanings of this day’s readings. It is about what had happened that day at the Mount Tabor, where Jesus revealed the truth about Himself to the three of His disciples, Peter, James and John. He revealed the fullness of His glory on top of that mountain, an event known as the Transfiguration. Jesus was revealed in all of His glory as the Almighty God and Lord of all.

Another significance of this event can be seen from what happened next. Jesus spoke with two of the greatest figures of the Old Testament, namely Moses and Elijah. Moses was the leader of the people of Israel who led them out of Egypt where they lived in slavery and great suffering, and who have received the Law of God from the Lord Himself, and taught the Law to the people. Meanwhile, Elijah was a great prophet and servant of God who struggled against the wicked kings of Israel and who laboured hard to bring the people of God back to the path of righteousness.

Moses therefore represented the Law, while Elijah represented the Prophets. And the significance of their appearance to Jesus is that, Jesus is the embodiment and fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Law of God is the proof of God’s love for us, a set of guidelines meant to show us how to be truly devoted and faithful servants and children of our Lord, and therefore it is meant to help us to keep our paths straight, walking in the path of the Lord alone.

How about the prophets? They are the faithful servants and messengers which God had sent to His people in order to remind them and to bring them back to the right path whenever they have erred in their lives. They spoke of God’s truth and explain again the meaning of the Law to the people, who were often stubborn and rebellious in their ways.

Jesus fulfilled the entirety of the Law and the prophecies of the prophets completely and perfectly. He made the Law of God understandable to all the people, showing its true meaning and intent that is love. He taught the people and through His disciples, He revealed the fullness of God’s intentions and love for mankind. By the perfect fulfillment of the Law and the words of the prophets, He had made salvation and hope previously not available to us, to become available.

For Christ our Lord is the bridge which bridge the great span and rift that existed between us and God, for our sins and rebelliousness which had separated us from God’s grace and love. And by His glorious Transfiguration on the mount, which we heard from the Gospel today, He revealed to us our future, the fate which will be ours if we obey the Lord, His Law and walk righteously in His ways.

Yes, it has been promised to all those who keep their faith, that they shall be glorified in body, heart, mind and soul. Thus, the Transfiguration is a premonition and reminder of our own transfiguration, the glorification of the faithful. But it will not be automatic, and neither will it be an easy path for us to take. There will be opposition and challenges, and we all have to be ready for all of them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, lastly, as Jesus went down from the mountain, and from there on to His suffering and death in Jerusalem, therefore all of us are reminded again that life is not all easy and there will be times when we have to suffer or even risk our lives for the sake of our faith in God. Peter and the other two Apostles were certainly awed by what they have seen when they saw Jesus transfigured in glory before them.

Peter therefore told Jesus that they wanted to build three tents for Him, Moses and Elijah because they felt such great happiness and joy being in the glory of God and seeing Man glorified because of faith. Jesus reminded them, that in order to reach there, they had to first go through difficulties, challenges and suffering, and that was why, they did not remain on the mountain forever, but they went down, and the Lord went forth to face His Passion and death in Jerusalem.

What does all of these mean for us, brothers and sisters? It means that all of us should use this Lenten season to the best of our abilities, to repent from our sins and seek God’s forgiveness. We have to bear our crosses, just as the Lord went on to carry His cross to Calvary. We have to have that clear goal, that is our transfiguration from the creatures of sin and darkness, into the creatures of the light. Until then, we have to work hard and resist the temptations of sin, and strive to walk always in the way of the Lord.

May Almighty God be with us all in this holy season of Lent, and help us to make use of this season to change our sinful ways into the way of righteousness that in the end, God will find us worthy and we will receive the full reward which He had promised to those who keep their faith in Him. He is ever faithful to us, just as Abraham had been faithful himself by not even holding back giving his own son, and more so for our Lord who did not spare even Jesus, His own Son, for our salvation. God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 22 February 2015 : First Sunday of Lent, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the occasion of the First Sunday of Lent, the first of five sundays dedicated to the celebration of this holy season of preparation for the Holy Week and Easter. Today also happens to be the feast and celebration of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle in Rome, the Apostolic authority of the Chief and Prince of the Apostles, the Vicar of Christ and the Leader of the Universal Church.

On this day, the theme of the Scripture readings is about God, His love and mercy that He showed to all those who have sincerely looked for Him and are genuine in their desire to repent and address their wrongs. Today we heard of the promise which God had made, that so long as we are faithful to Him, we shall receive His grace and will not perish, but receive eternal life.

In the first reading, which was taken from the Book of Genesis, we heard of the narrative of what happened after Noah had been saved by God through the ark he was told to build. God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants, that includes all of us, that He shall never again destroy us with water, the waters of the Great Flood that had made all creations to perish, except that of Noah and his family, and all those which had been gathered in the ark.

There are many symbolisms in the readings today, the first of which is water itself. God will no longer destroy mankind with water, but instead, through water, life will come forth. Water becomes a life-giving object, and it is not just because we need water to survive and live, but even more importantly, because we all know that all of us at one point of time in our lives, be it as a very young infant or as a child, a teenager or as an adult, we have been baptised in the Name of the Lord

Thus, we can see clearly, the symbolism of the reading on Noah and the Great Flood. The Church is often portrayed as an ark, a large boat or a ship, where all the faithful are gathered inside and safe from the storms and the waves outside. Therefore, the rites and the sacrament of baptism is also a reminder of the Great Flood, the time when God separated the righteous from the sinners by the means of water that destroyed and annihilated the wicked, but saved the righteous out of the water and into the ark.

Therefore in the same way, through the waters of baptism, we who have made the conscious decision, or the decision by our parents and godparents, have been saved from the darkness and ignorance of the world, and were joined into the Church of God, the Ark of salvation, and together we are braving through the storms of this world, the difficulties, the oppositions, the challenges and the temptations that come our way from the devil and all of his forces.

And the significance of this to the other feast we celebrate today is that, the one who helped to steer the great ship that is the Church, is the Vicar of Christ, the one who had been entrusted with the governance and authority over all the souls of the faithful, who is our Pope, the successor of St. Peter the Apostle, who is the first of the Vicars of Christ, and whose seat of authority is in Rome, as the Bishop of Rome.

Thus, on this feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, we should all reflect on the nature of the Church itself, the Ark of salvation, which is rooted in Christ and because it is safely and strongly anchored in Christ, no storm or wave can overcome it, and steered by St. Peter and his successors, the Church is moving forward in this world full of challenges, chair being the symbol of authority and teaching in the Church.

Therefore, all of these remind us that even though we have been saved by the grace of God through the waters of baptism, where our sins, the taints of the original sins of our ancestors had been erased from us, but we must still adhere closely to the teaching authority of the Church, which is centred upon the authority of the Bishop of Rome, our Pope, as the Vicar of our Lord Jesus Christ, His representative in this world.

And another strong reminder for us all today is about the nature of evil and what Satan and his allies are always busy doing on continuous basis, in trying to tempt us back into sin. Sin is always around us, and the temptations of the world are always very hard to resist at times. Temptation is the tool of the devil to bring us back into his dominion and so that we will suffer together with him in the eternal suffering of hell.

In the Gospel, we heard about the temptation of Jesus in the desert, when Jesus went for forty days and forty nights right after His baptism in the Jordan. He did not eat or drink anything during that period, and being in the desert where practically nothing lives, it must be really a great hunger and thirst that affected Him by the end of the forty days.

After all, although Jesus is divine and Lord of all creations, but at the same time He is also fully human, being both God and Man, and therefore, as all of us mankind are, He was also feeling the fatigue and the hunger that tempted Him to have something to eat. Although He is without sin, but He allowed Himself to be tempted by Satan to show us all an example, of what we should be and how we should live our lives and reject all forms of temptations and sin.

There are three things that we have to be aware of, brothers and sisters in Christ, the three greatest dangers that will often be on our path, which threaten to prevent us from achieving salvation in God. These three are gluttony and desire, human pride and finally the desire for power. These three were aptly showcased by Jesus, as He resisted the temptations of the devil who used these three against Him.

The first temptation, that of hunger, is playing against our human weakness against our stomach. When we have plenty with us, be it in terms of food or in terms of possessions, we tend to keep them all to ourselves. It is indeed not very wrong to say that we live by our stomach and for our stomach. When we have more, we tend to seek more and want for more, and when we do not have, we do all we can to obtain what we want, often at the disadvantage of others.

We are always worried about our lives, every single days of our life. We worry about what we are to have, what we have to eat, what will happen to us on this day and that, but in worrying so much, we forget that we have One who is always looking after us and He who indeed knows all that we will ever need in our lives. We have to learn to break free from our desires and know when to limit our desires.

There is no point if we are all well fed and had everything in the world, but we have no God inside of us, and if His words does not take root in us. In that manner, we secure for ourselves a good and prosperous life in this world, but we fail to secure the life that is in the world to come, then it is truly pointless. Remember of what had happened to the rich man in the story of Jesus on the rich man and Lazarus. He had all the food that he would ever want, and Lazarus had none. The rich man was cast down into hell because he had no love inside of him. He failed to show mercy, concern and love to those around him who need them.

And then, human pride, a great danger and threat to all of us. All of us mankind are by nature predisposed to hubris, arrogance and pride in ourselves. It is our pride that often make us boast of our own accomplishment and even looking down upon others because we think of ourselves as superior to them. It is pride that Satan was trying on Jesus, by pushing Him to glory in His greatness as God and Lord of all and show off to all the peoples His power, and therefore saving Him the need to labour and work hard as if He had done what Satan wanted Him to do, everyone would likely believe in Him and followed Him.

But Jesus knew that pride is not the way to go, as pride, hubris and arrogance will inevitably make us to be disobedient and rebellious, as we are less likely to admit that we have made a mistake and persist therefore in our sinfulness. Just as Lucifer the greatest and mightiest angel had been brought down by his pride, and becoming Satan, accursed and condemned, therefore, pride will lead us down the same path to destruction.

And the last of all, and the greatest of all temptations is power, and the desire to have that power. Indeed the saying is correct, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Satan showed Jesus the power He could have if He would just worship him, who is the master of all the powers of the world, and also all the wealth that would accompany that. He would no longer need to go on and suffer for the sake of mankind and die for them.

That temptation is indeed the ultimate and greatest temptation of all. Any man would be sorely tempted by such offer, and with the offer literally given to them on a silver platter, it is obvious why it can be so easy for us to be tempted and fall into sin. But Jesus knew that true power does not lie in earthly wealth or through tyranny.

Rather, true power lies in the responsibility that comes together with that power and how to use that power responsibly. He chose to let go of all those temptations and faithfully carried out the mission which the Father had entrusted to Him. And because of that, all power and glory now belongs to Him alone, and dominion was passed from Satan and his allies to the triumphant Saviour.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been told of all these, so that we too may learn of the devices of the devil in his attempts to bring us down with him into eternal damnation. He is wicked as well as cunning, and he has many means within his disposal to trick us and to mislead us into sinning before God, including what he had tried out with Jesus and failed.

Yes, what I mean is that we must be ever vigilant, as the devil himself can use the verses of the Holy Scriptures itself and twist them to serve his own desires. That was what He did with Jesus, but our Lord knew what was the true meaning of the devil’s words and He did not fall for Satan’s trickery. But we may not be as capable in resisting the devil and knowing the right from the wrong when the devil assails us.

That is why today all of these are a reminder yet again that we should all seek to deepen our faith in God, by growing deeper in our understanding of the teachings of the Faith, and the way to do so is by putting ourselves ever close to the teachings of the Church and obey her teachings completely and fully as espoused by the Vicar of Christ, our Pope, who is leading the Church of God and all the faithful in it through the tumultuous times and tribulations, facing the forces of the devil in this world.

Therefore, as we progress through this season of Lent, let us all renew our faith for the Lord and let us no longer sin and commit any sort of evil, but strengthen our commitment and devotion to Him, so that we may resist all of the devil’s tricks and false promises and remain truly faithful to our Lord, who then will reward us for our faith and bring us to eternal life and glory. Amen.

Sunday, 14 September 2014 : 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is truly a great feast day of the Church, of such a great importance for us, as in it lie one of the greatest aspect of our faith itself. And this is none other than the exaltation and the glorification of the Holy Cross, on which our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ had hung upon as He went on His mission of salvation to save us all from death because of our sins.

The Holy Cross is not just any cross, but it has been made holy and sacred because it was on that wooden cross, made from a tree, that Jesus had emptied Himself completely from His divinity, and suffered a grievous and horrendous pain as He laid dying, hanging from that cross. The Holy Cross is a reminder for all of us, of He who once hung there out of His love for us, so that we may have new hope in this life, and that we may look beyond death that is once our fate.

The cross was the favourite punishment method by the Romans, the conqueror of the known world at the time, where they used it to punish rebels against the Roman authority, as one of the most severe methods of punishment, reserved only for those who brought about great harm and threat to the Roman state. The victims of crucifixions were left to hang on the cross, made from a tree and carved to form a cruciform plank, so that the victims were left to hung between the heaven and the earth.

This punishment was both designed to bring the greatest amount of suffering to the victim, by denying the victim a quick death, giving them a slow and increasingly painful suffering, and also to give the greatest humiliation possible, as the victims were stripped to mere loincloth or even naked, stretched wide on that cross, often on the roadsides and high places like hills, so that many would be able to see the humiliation and suffering of those who dared to test the might of Rome.

Thus, the cross was a symbol of ultimate humiliation and suffering for all who see them at the time of Jesus, during the peak of the Roman Empire. But yet, many centuries prior to the time of the Romans, the prophets have foretold of the suffering Messiah, namely through the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied how the Messiah would come and bear the suffering for all of mankind. It was also mentioned how He would suffer, even long before the time when the punishment was common.

For in crucifixions, the victim would either be tied to the cross or in especially serious and severe occasions, the victims would be nailed upon the cross. The latter method would be more grievous and painful, and even more humiliating, and was indeed reserved only for the worst enemies and the greatest of punishments for the enemies of Rome.

And the prophet Isaiah mentioned that the Messiah would be pierced, and that piercing indeed represented how Jesus, the Lord and Messiah would be nailed on the cross. He would also be lifted up high, like when Moses lifted high up the bronze serpent in the desert. This too is a premonition of what was to come when the Lord came to save His people from destruction and death.

When the people of God, the Israelites were saved from their slavery in Egypt, they went through a long Exodus and journey through the desert in their progress to reach the land promised to them through their ancestors. In that journey, which was not an easy one, God was with them along the way, and He blessed His people, giving them great providence and food along the way.

Yes, if we read through the Book of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we should all realise how blessed this people had been. God destroyed their enemies and all those who went on to fight against them were crushed and have their forces utterly beaten, and God gave them into the hands of His people. And we all should be aware that God Himself freed them from the chains of the Egyptians with great might, with ten plagues, each of which were of terrible ferocity.

God even sent His people the bread from heaven to eat, in the form of manna, and large birds for them to catch and eat as well. He gave them clear and sweet water to drink, and we have to imagine that, having crystal clear and good water to drink in the middle of the desert is no mere small feat. Nothing is of course impossible for the Lord, and He loves us beyond anything else.

And it is that love that prevented Him from totally and completely annihilating that people which had risen up against Him, despite all He had given them and blessed them with. Having been given and endowed with so much graces, the people of God made complaints after complaints of their supposedly ‘miserable’ existence and life in the desert, and even longed for the ‘good’ life in Egypt where they once lived in slavery.

They spurned His love and kindness, complaining even against what they have been given to eat, bread from heaven itself. This was why, eventually, God took action against them, to remind them that He is Lord over all, and that those who constantly defy Him and oppose Him will meet their end in eternal suffering and destruction. He sent them therefore, fiery and poisonous serpents that attacked them, struck them and killed many of them.

But we have to always remember and take note that it is not God who desired our destruction, as it had happened with the Israelites. In fact, it was the people’s own stubbornness and refusal to return to the light of God which had caused their own destruction. The serpents represented the suffering and the punishment that the people must endure for their sins, and the ultimate effect is indeed none other than death.

Ever since mankind had first disobeyed against the Lord, they have sinned against the Lord in their hearts and in their bodies, such that they were no longer worthy of the Lord. The consequence of sin is death, as sin separates one from the Lord. The Lord who is all good and perfect cannot tolerate the imperfections caused by evil to be in His presence, and therefore, naturally, sin led mankind to death, and if nothing had been done, then all mankind would have faced death eternal, and eternal separation from the love of God.

And that is hell. Hell is the total separation of a creation of God from the very love of the Creator and Lord of all. And this total separation is final and unchangeable. Thus, this is what hell is truly about, not the fires and the images of hell that we are commonly exposed to, but the suffering in hell is far greater than we can ever imagine, since it means that the total separation from God’s love, that should be unimaginable to us all, because it was God’s love that is everything to us, how we live and why we live in the first place, and we are able to walk and enjoy this life on earth because of God’s love that is with us and in us.

Hell is what is due to mankind as the punishment for our sins, and in hell, it is the despair and the state of total hopelessness which is the greatest suffering, as all the souls in hell know that there is absolutely no hope of escaping that state, eternally damned and separated from God’s love, and it is this eternal and constantly repeating despair, hopelessness and guilt of having betrayed the Lord which brought about the greatest suffering for the souls in hell.

But is this what God intends for us? Is this what He intended for the people He loved and which He had created in His own image, as the pinnacle and the greatest of all His creations? No! This is exactly why He wants to save us, and so great was His desire, that the very truth was laid bare for all to see and hear, as we often heard in the famous phrase from the Gospel of St. John, chapter 3 verse 16, namely that God loved the world and His people so much, that He sent His only Son into the world, so that all those who believe in Him would not be lost and perish, but gain eternal life.

This is the very essence of what we are celebrating on this day, that is the glory and the mystery of the Holy Cross of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom the Lord Himself had sent, a part of Himself, His own Word made incarnate into flesh as one of us, and to walk among men, so that He might exercise His power and bring salvation to all those who believe in Him. And the way how He did that, was through the cross of suffering, which He transformed into the cross of glory and triumph.

As I had mentioned much earlier on in this homily and reflection, that the use of crucifixion and the punishment of the cross was indeed to punish and to bring the greatest suffering on the sufferer, and also to humiliate the sufferer, and in this case, this suffering One is Jesus, the Messiah and Saviour of all. Even though He was guiltless, blameless and without sin, He offered Himself freely as part of God’s long planned salvation for His people, so that through His death, He might open a new path for them, into salvation and eternal grace.

To those who observed His death and especially among those who followed Him during His ministry would indeed question, why would such a holy Man and the Messiah no less, suffer such a humiliation and suffering so great if He was indeed chosen by the Lord. And we know that even throughout history and until today, there are still many those who refused to believe in the crucifixion of Christ because they deemed it impossible and unreasonable for such a great One to suffer such a humiliating death.

Yet we know that Jesus Christ, Son of God, Messiah and Lord of all, chose this way because indeed, He loves us all very dearly, and He would not want us to be sundered forever from His love, that is hell. He does not desire for us to inhabit hell, simply because, that was not His intention for us. His intention is for us to live happily with Him in love and harmony. And that was why He chose to come into this world, that is to bring all peoples to Himself.

But sin lays between God and us, as a great and seemingly insurmountable barrier that prevent us from returning to God our Lord. Therefore, if we read the Book of Leviticus, we know that there is such a thing as sin and burnt offering, where animals such as lamb were slaughtered and then burnt on the altar, and the blood together with the animal constituted a worthy offering to God, who then accepted it as the partial reparation and remission for the sins committed by God’s people.

But the people of God remained in sin, and also they inherited the original sin of their forefathers, ever since they rebelled against the will of God and followed Satan into his rebellion instead. This original sin and other sins that mankind committed kept them separated from the love of God, and due to the immensity of the sins of mankind combined together, no amount of sacrifice would be able to redeem mankind from their sins, save for one.

Yes, the one sacrifice and the only one, when the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself offered His own Body and Blood as the only worthy sacrifice for the immensity of the combination of our sins together. Only He who is perfect, perfectly unblemished and pure, without any taints of sin, and He who is Lord of all, had the worthy offering to make in order to save us from our sins.

And thus He suffered, all the sufferings and humiliations He endured, all the spittle and the mockery from the people He endured, and the cross of suffering He carried on His back, enduring lashes after lashes and mockery after mockery as He made His journey towards Calvary. Yet He did not give up. We cannot even comprehend the kind of suffering which Jesus endured for our sake.

Why so? This is because the suffering He endured was much more than just the apparent physical suffering, even as great as that suffering was. He endured the weight and the consequences of our sins, and all of this bore down on Him as a great weight beyond any other weight. He was blameless, and yet He was crushed for our sins. This was also yet another fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophets.

But Jesus endured all of them with perfect obedience and perfect love for us. He is truly the new Adam, as St. Paul had said, as the One who went to correct all the wrongs that began with Adam, the old Adam, our forefather who sinned against God. Just as Mary His mother is the new Eve, whose obedience and faith, rebuking Satan and his lies, Jesus is the new Adam through which God renewed mankind.

Jesus therefore changed that symbol of ultimate shame, the cross, designed as such by the Romans, into a symbol of hope and glory. He turned the cross from a symbol of death and destruction into a symbol of salvation and liberation from sin, from the slavery of the forces of evil, and the guarantee of life eternal as promised by the Lord. Thus, the essence of the cross and the crucifix we have today signify this important turning point, which Christ had made the cross into our hope, through His death on the cross for our salvation.

Sadly indeed, despite all that the Lord had done for us, many of us mankind still acted like the people of Israel of old, disregarding the love of God and even ignoring Him altogether. How many of us actually realised the love that God had for us? Every single step He took on His passion journey towards His death, He did it out of His love for us. He did not want us to perish, but it is many of us who chose perishing in the world rather than embracing God’s love.

Remember, that in Jesus we have been saved, out of God’s love. He wants to forgive us our sins, but this is only possible if we too play our part, and believe in Him. We can start this through our own actions and our own daily lives. Have we acted in accordance what our Lord had taught us? Have we practiced our faith and what we believe in our lives? Have we loved our brothers and sisters as much as we love ourselves?

We have much work to do in front of us, brothers and sisters in Christ. Our lives will indeed be difficult, if we choose to follow the Lord and walk in His path. But our Lord had made His cross a sign of victory and triumph, the Holy Cross, that even Satan and his forces will tremble and flee from. Satan knows that the cross was his ultimate undoing. His defeat lay at the cross that had liberated mankind from the burden of their sins. He knows that his doom is coming, and he cannot avoid that final defeat.

However, Satan will grow desperate and he will do all he can to stall as many souls as possible on his way to doom. Remember that he has all the power in this world to tempt and persuade us to divert our path from the path of salvation into the path of doom. Temptations of the evil one is plenty in this world saturated with materialism, consumerism and love of the self. Selfishness and violence is on the rise, brethren, and if we do not guard ourselves against Satan’s advances, we will fall.

Therefore, let us all work together, brothers and sisters in Christ! We who have been saved by the suffering and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ must be strong in our faith and in our dedication to God, so that Satan will not stand against us. Remember the Holy Cross and Jesus our Lord whenever temptations of Satan come to prevent us from seeking the Lord. Proclaim the Holy Name of Jesus and staunchly rebuke Satan for his attempts to tempt us.

Jesus has indeed been given the Name which is above every other names, for first He is God made flesh, and thus, it is the Name of God Himself, Master of all the universe and over all creations. Then, through His perfect love and obedience, He had become an example for all mankind and for all creation, and no one in creation can do anything other than to obey this Lord and Master who had given His all to save His beloved ones. And even Satan had to obey the Lord, with fear and great trembling on his knees. Such is the power of the Name of Jesus Christ. Do not use His Name in vain!

And even in the Roman Empire, which was pagan and idol worshipping, the Lord also gained a final victory. Many Emperors of Rome persecuted the Christians, the faithful ones in the Lord, but their prayers and the blood of the martyrs eventually triumphed, the triumph of the Holy Cross, when the Lord made them strong and grow in might, so that more and more people would come to listen to the words of salvation in the Gospels and the Scriptures.

Ultimately, the famed Emperor Constantine saw a bright sign of the Lord, Christ Himself in His insignia, as the victorious and conquering King, and went on to win a great victory that eventually led to the repentance and conversion of the Roman Empire into a great, Christian Empire belonging to God. Thus, the Cross had triumphed against the enemies of the Lord, led by Satan and his fallen angels.

Therefore, let us all take an opportunity, every day in our lives to look at the cross, at the crucifix on which lie the Body of Jesus our Lord, as a reminder that He died out of His infinite and enduring love for us, so that we who have seen Him and believed, will not die but live a new life everlasting, just as Moses lifted the bronze serpent and all who had been bitten and saw the bronze serpent did not die but live.

We have been bitten by the serpent, Satan, and his poison is threatening to destroy us, that is sin. But if we trust in the Lord Jesus, and look at the victorious cross, the Holy Cross of Christ, we will not die but live too! Let us carry together our crosses in life with Christ, so that just as He told His disciples, that we may have a share in His resurrection, and therefore be granted new life eternal, freed from all vestiges of sin and evil, and rejoice for eternity with our loving God. May Almighty God bless us this day and every day of our lives, that we will always be faithful and dedicated to the Cross of Christ! Amen.

Sunday, 16 June 2013 : 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Galatians 2 : 16, 19-21

Yet we know that a person is justified not by practicing the law but by faith in Christ Jesus. So we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may receive true righteousness from faith in Christ Jesus, and not from the practices of the Law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

As for me, the very Law brought me to die to the Law, that I may live for God. I am crucified with Christ. Do I live? It is no longer me, Christ lives in me. My life in this body is life through faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.

In this way I do not ignore the gift of God, for, if justification comes through the practice of the Law, Christ would have died for nothing.